A bill designed to change the governance of the Savannah International Trade and Convention Center from a local authority to a state authority appears to be back on track after stalling in the Georgia Senate earlier this month amid confusion about whether local officials — including the trade center’s board — had been appraised of the measure.
Satisfied after the briefing, the board voted unanimously go forward with the legislation, contingent upon a meeting, requested by County Manager Lee Smith, with both county and city leaders to be sure there is total clarity on the issue.
“There have been individual meetings and discussions with city and county officials,” Smith said Thursday. “Both entities have agreed with the legislation, with the request from the county to amend the bill to ensure that members of the traded center board will be residents of Chatham County.”
The trade center agreed and passed the request along to the legislative counsel that drafted the original bill, said trade center general manager Sherrie Spinks.
House Bill 354, sponsored Rep. Ron Stephens at the request of trade center authority chairman Mark Smith, passed the House March 3 with little opposition and appeared headed to easy passage in the Senate before Chatham County Commission Chairman Al Scott, who only learned about the bill after it passed the House, asked Stephens to slow it down while local officials took a look.
At the trade center authority board’s March 9 meeting, Mark Smith, who originally said he considered the bill basically a housekeeping mechanism, apologized for not bringing it before the full board, adding that the decision to ask for the bill came after the legislature was already in session.
“I think at that point, events overcame the meeting schedule of the board,” Smith said before asking trade center attorney Tom Gray to clarify for the authority board what the bill would — and wouldn’t — do.
The bill, Gray said, would exempt the authority from state sales tax, allow a quorum by conference call, allow board members to be covered by the state under the Tort Claims Act and — most importantly — provide the authority with the ability to borrow money.
“This bill does not transfer ownership to the state, other than what the state already owns; does not change the name of the facility, does not change the composition of the board, does not change the local legislators’ appointment of board members and does not give up local control,” he said.
The state already owns the trade center property and building, Gray said.
When asked for an update Thursday, Spinks said the bill is still alive in the Senate.